Foundations in Graphic Communications: Checking Color Proofs

New York City College Of Technology
Advertising Design & Graphic Arts: NYCCT

The Course At A Glance


Foundations In Graphic Communications
Patrick Henry     (p) 718.847.9430     (c) 917.647.0590     (e)


By Richard Barbaria
Jaguar Advanced Graphics Inc.
Bethpage, N.Y.

This article is written to assist you in the process of a press okay with a customer, designer or art director. After thousands of press okays from both the suppliers side and the buyers side, I’ve found that with some thought and preparation, some of the challenges you may face during the okay will go smoother and quicker.

Two things must be kept in mind as we discuss the process of doing a press okay. Those are the standards that have been developed by the industry and the fact that the ideas, opinions and concepts that I suggest to do a press okay may differ from those of others. You must decide what is best for your shop and your customer.

The industry has developed standards used as a guideline and starting point for the printing process. The basic standards are the hue and density of the four colors used for what we call four-color process (4/C), the Pantone Matching System (PMS) for spot color and the standardization of lighting conditions used to view these colors. These standards should be kept in mind as we delve further into the process of a press okay.

Preparing to do a Press Okay
First, make contact with the customer about one to two hours before the scheduled time of the okay. As you know, the best-laid plans do not always result in an on-time press okay. This should allow you time to know if you are still on schedule. In most cases it will be enough time for the customer to adjust his/her schedule so that they are not sitting in your facility, getting angry, while waiting for you to be ready.

Before the customer arrives, review the job completely by checking the final proofs as well as any intermediate proofs. This will help you gain a feel for the type of work and quality expectations you will be dealing with. Speak with the CSR assigned to the account to gain some additional insight of the customer and the personality you will be working with. Learn the name of the person(s) coming to do the okay. Be sure you understand what the final product will be used for and the number of forms or press runs that will be required to complete the job. If the press run will become part of an overall project or campaign, become acquainted with the other components of the campaign. The more you know about the job, the more comfortable you will be when you begin to work with the customer. In turn, the customer will become more comfortable with you once they realize that you took the care and time to become familiar with their job.

Upon arrival of the customer, introduce yourself and explain that you will be working with them on the okay. Discuss the job with the customer and ask him/her to point out any concerns regarding the job. If you had any questions or concerns that became apparent while reviewing the job, prior to the customer’s arrival, this would be a good time to bring them up and talk them out. This initial interaction will set the tone for the working relationship you will have with this person, as well as give you an idea of what he/she will be looking for on the printed sheet.

During the process of a press okay, you will want the customer to review the content of the copy and images on the sheet as well as okay the color. In the end you will want the customer to sign the sheet to indicate they are satisfied that these two things are acceptable. It will be your job to guide them through the process so that they will be satisfied and your company can still be productive.

Checking Content
Checking the content of the sheet is relatively easy. The type matter and images are either on the sheet or they are not. Of course your workflow processes should have insured that the content on the sheet is correct. But take advantage of the fact that the customer is at your facility and ask him/her to check the content on the sheet.

Bring a “reader” sheet to the customer so that the content can be checked. A “reader” sheet is a press sheet that contains all the copy, in position, but may not be ready to check for color. Make sure the sheet is clean and readable and be sure to point out to the customer that this sheet is not ready to be viewed for color. Have the final proof that was used for content through your process, available for the customer to compare to the sheet. Showing a reader sheet is especially helpful when you are not ready to show the customer a sheet for color. This will let the customer start checking the sheet and afford you time to bring the press up to color. Besides, if there is and error, what better time for it to be discovered then before the full makeready time has been spent. It is to no one's advantage to wait until the end of the okay to check the sheet for content.

Allow the customer to check the sheet in a well lit, quite area like an office or conference room. The reader sheet should not be checked by the customer in the pressroom. Do not “hover” over the customer while they are reviewing the reader sheet. It may be best to leave the room, being sure to instruct the customer as to how they can contact you when they are finished.

Use this time to rule out and book down the sheet. This is your last chance to be sure the imposition is correct or that you will not be cutting off copy in the finishing process. Besides, a good way to impress your customer is to bring him/her a booked dummy before the okay is complete.

Checking Color
The checking of color is not quite as simple as checking content. Color is viewed and conceived differently by everyone. What may look good to me may not look good to you. To understand some of the variations in viewing color, we must first revert to the established standards. First, be sure your customer is viewing the color under the standard 5000K° controlled lighting conditions. Your ink supplier should be providing four-color process inks that meet the standards for color hue, and you should be using a good densitometer on press to insure that you are working within the density standards for four-color process. In judging a PMS match, a visual match is a good starting point and the densitometer should be used to insure that the density of the PMS is the same across the sheet.

There are differences of opinion when the decision is made to let the customer come out to press to check color or to have the sheet viewed in a quiet, controlled environment. Some customers prefer to work directly with the pressman while others prefer to view the sheet in a quiet area and discuss the color moves with the foreman or other representative of the printer. You must decide what works best for you and your customer.

Once you are satisfied that you have met the standards and that the color on the sheet looks good to you, it's time to bring the sheet to the customer. Mark this sheet #1 and make sure you also bring the last approved color proof along with the sheet. Begin to view the sheet with the customer in an informal manner. Ask him/her to check the sheet overall and give their comments on the general look of the sheet. This will give you your first indication of how well you have judged what the customer expected as well as in indication that an overall color move may be required.

Guide the customer from one side of the sheet to the other. Ask his/her opinion on the images and mark the sheet with the color adjustments you believe are required. Now is the time to be sure you fully understand what the customer is requesting. Do not guess or assume, if you are not sure, get clarification by discussing it further. Let the customer know if you don’t understand what they are looking for and ask them to perhaps give you an indication by explaining it in layman's terms.

Explain that instructions from him/her may be better interpreted if they said things like “I would like the sky brighter” or “her face looks sunburned”. This is especially true if the customer begins giving specific instructions such as “take down the magenta” or “the cyan is to heavy”. This may or may not be the correct instruction but you will want to be the one that makes that determination. As I said earlier, color is conceived differently by everyone and getting a “feel” for what the customer is looking for will most times get you the color okay quicker and result in a happier customer. Don’t be afraid to offer you opinion or suggestion. It will most likely be appreciated by the customer and interpreted as your concern to make the color on the job better.

If there is a PMS match on the sheet, be sure that the same swatchbook that is being used on the press is available for the customer to compare to the press sheet. Even a slight variation between PMS swatch books could cause confusion.

Make the required color moves on press. As each new pull is shown to the customer, mark the sheet with the pull number, bring the sheet to the customer, and bring in the previous pull number for the customer to make a comparison. Repeat the process until the customer is satisfied with the color.

Sounds pretty simple, but...
If we lived in a perfect world the okay would go fairly smooth. I don’t know about your shop but every shop I’ve been in, the world is not perfect. Not only that, it seems that every job and every layout has something about it that makes it unusual or difficult. Things like paper surfaces, metallic inks, duotones, crossovers, conflicts of images running behind each other on the sheet, and any number of other situations, will cause changes in the way you need to approach the okay with the customer. Then of course you have those little annoying things that are caused by the physical properties of the press like roller streaks, ghosting and so on.

Each of these things needs to be addressed with the customer before you begin the okay process or at least as quickly as they are discovered. It is always best that you point out a situation to the customer, before they point it out to you. This is true even if the problem can be viewed as your fault. Hiding it will only get the customer annoyed, or worst yet, cause a reprint at your expense, sometime later because you didn’t point it out at the okay.

A final word
Approach the okay as a challenge and a chance for you to show the customer that you and your company know what you are doing. Use you time with the customer to teach if required and also to learn if you can. Approach the customer with respect for their knowledge even if you believe it may be limited. Respect commands respect and you will build a relationship with the customer that will make the press okay a good experience for both of you. And maybe the customer will even want to use your company again.

Richard Barbaria has worked in the printing and graphics industry for over 33 years. He is the vice president of operations for Jaguar Advanced Graphics Inc., a full-service commercial and book printer located in Bethpage, N.Y. Mr. Barbaria is the current chairman of the Long Island Group of The Association of Graphic Communications (AGC). This article was adapted from a seminar Mr. Barbaria conducted at the Long Island Printing and Graphics Expo and is reprinted here with his permission.

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